Firearms competency

September 2011 Associations

Hot on the heels of the recent judgement awarded to SAIDSA, 31 private security companies and 1446 security officers, Hi-Tech Security Solutions spoke to SAIDSA national chairperson, Johan Krogh, about the implications of this precedent-setting court case.

In a recent statement, the South African Intruder Detection Services Association (SAIDSA) said that on 15 April 2011 the North Gauteng High Court issued a High Court Order that will now force the hand of the SAPS in terms of timeous processing of firearm competency certificates.

Krogh explained that the problem of delays in the turnaround time for certification started five years ago with unacceptably long periods of time being the norm for most firearm competency applications. “It was not atypical for security officers in the industry to be relieved of their firearms by judicious officials, in spite of the fact that their applications had been submitted some months previously. Imagine if you will what a deleterious effect this has on the livelihood of these security officers.

“In most cases security officers faced with this dilemma were sidestepped for promotion due to their non-compliance status. In the worst case scenario, this has led to loss of jobs, which obviously has had a severely negative effect on those concerned,” Krogh emphasised.

Krogh explained that when the PSIRA Act came into being in 2002 it stipulated that security officers have to use a company weapon as they would not be permitted to make use of their own firearms. When the new Firearm Act was promulgated, it then stipulated that all previous green firearm licences had to be converted to the new white firearm licences.

“The period for compliance has now been extended indefinitely. It also stipulated that the SAPS could reject an application if the applicant’s form was incomplete, if there were sufficient reasonable grounds to do so, or if he/she had a previous criminal record. However, the period of rejection or approval of an application was meant to be within a reasonable period, which obviously has not been the case,” he added.

“We have been in negotiations with both the director Jaco Bothma at the Firearms Registrar and Jenni Irish-Qhobosheane, the Secretariat at the SAPS. These attempts to find a workable solution to the problem failed, however, so we were forced to take legal action,” said Krogh.

He cited instances where security officers in KwaZulu-Natal had their licences to practice as security officers revoked due to the non-approval of their competency certificates. “In addition, we were told of other instances where security officers had been arrested as they were carrying firearms without the necessary certification. In our communications with both the Registrar and the SAPS we pointed out their administrative shortcomings and the fact that these actions were unlawful, but this was unfortunately to no avail, hence our decision to file a suit against these parties.”

In a recent statement to the media Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa said: “Lawsuits against the Police Ministry over its alleged failure to deal with the backlog of firearm applications were unfortunate and would not benefit anyone.”

The Ministry continued, saying that the court cases were unfortunate, given that Mthethwa announced a turnaround strategy of the SAPS Central Firearms Registry (CFR) in November last year, and urged gun owner organisations to work with the ministry in clearing the backlogs. “This however was rather meaningless if one considers that the livelihoods of many security officers were at stake due to the seeming inability of the two parties to resolve the matter timeously and expeditiously,” said Krogh.

The statement pointed out that although Mthethwa recently noted progress in the number of firearm licences granted, he also acknowledged that more still needed to be done. This was obviously something that the courts were in agreement with, based on the outcome of the judgement in favour of the Applicants.

Mthethwa had also tasked the Secretariat of Police with “relooking at the reasons for each refusal so that the focus is not only on meeting a deadline but also ensuring compliance with the act.”

In the press statement, the Ministry pointed out that the CFR cannot reverse a refusal without an Appeal Board decision or a court order. “As soon as there is a court order, it takes less than two days to implement it.” Krogh is concerned however that in spite of the court ruling, the Authorities will not give due diligence to the credibility of individual applications in their haste to meet the 90-day deadline.

“Fortunately, those people whose applications have been rejected can take the matter to the Appeal Board for review and reconsideration. Apparently, during a one-month period earlier this year, the Appeal Board had heard 1300 cases and in 800 of these cases, the appeal was successful, with the Appeal Board overturning the decision of SAPS,” said Krogh.

Krogh is adamant that this is not a shortcut of the legislation which is very clear on the requirements for the firearms licence. “It would benefit nobody for an officer to be granted a competency certificate and firearms licence if he does not meet all the requirements of the law. We stand behind the Ministry in emphasising that these standards should not be compromised.”

In a recently held open session with hunters at HuntEX at Gallagher Estate Col Mirriam Mangwani, of the Central Firearms Registry CFR) of the SA Police Service (SAPS) said that all outstanding applications for firearms will be finalised – that is approved or rejected – by 31 July this year.

Krogh’s final words on the matter: “It is one thing to promulgate an Act but another thing altogether to enforce it. We recently heard that a further change to the licensing system is that it will now revert back to the old form of containing no expiry date on the licence, unlike the five-year renewal period that was initially legislated for the new licences. This revision, however, conflicts directly with the Firearms Act, so we wait with bated breath to see what resolution there will be on this matter. At the moment our primary concern is with the fair and judicious clearing of the backlog of pending applications.”

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